Earthly accomplishments do not allow you to die in peace anymore than water keeps you from starving to death. Leaving behind a legacy is important to some, but must be balanced with living each moment for yourself, and not necessarily your spouse, friends, family, or children.
The story of the Wandering Jew says that a cobbler taunted Jesus, saying “go on, go on!,” to which Jesus replied, “you too shall go on,” which cursed him to eternal life until the Second Coming. Immortality on this earth would actually be quite depressing, because you would out-live everyone you know and love. The division between life and death gives life structure, continuity, and meaning.
The religion of atheism encourages hedonism, because it says that man is a useless passion — there is no imperative purpose to life, and death is eternal, complete, and final. Unfortunately, humans are naturally spiritual beings, and all encounter supernatural experiences in life which cannot be discounted as vagaries of perception, so atheism is ultimately appealing to only teenagers and twenty-somethings.
When we look at other animals — dogs, cats, spiders, tigers, alligators, blue whales, chimpanzees, pigeons, etc., we see animals who do care about preserving their lives, but do not have the soul or consciousness that humans possess. We are special, like no other species on earth, because we philosophize beyond our existence, create works of art and science to stand the test of time, and (hopefully) strive to improve ourselves.
Death is as natural as birth, and it should be self-evident that both should be understood, but neither should be obsessed over. It’s important to entrench yourself in a belief system that allows you to make short and long-range decisions about how to conduct your life, be it believing in salvation, damnation, neutrality, reincarnation, or nothingness after death, but it’s also important to recognize that a belief that’s true at 6am in your life may not be true at Noon or at sunset. What you believe at 60 years old will be far different from what you believe at 30, and at 90 years of age your outlook will be different than you can imagine now.
American culture tells you that you should spend 13 years in public school (K-12), and then at least 4 years in college, and then start a career in a specialty field and follow that path to the end. You are also told it’s very important to divorce yourself from your parents and your family, because they are holding you back and you should have the joy of having a car payment and rent payment every month. Individuality is very important, which is why you should eat junk food, never read anything, never get married or commit to anyone, drink your fluoridated and chlorinated water, believe in phony environmentalism, always be dumb, never find Jesus, be vain, get tattoos, and die of cancer at 55.
Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the point is while this path may be fine if it makes you happy or gives your life definition and purpose, it’s probably not fulfilling unless you want to die with regrets and squashed dreams. We have it good in the first world, and if you are stressed about being unemployed or overweight, a trip to Haiti, Nigeria, or Iraq might put your life in perspective. Personally, I prefer to stay in Florida where it’s safe.
In truth, a life of danger can be fulfilling, but sticking close to your family and avoiding the shackles of slavery gives you more potential. I live with my parents, so I don’t have to worry about paying a strange landlord rent or watching my back at night. I don’t have a job, not because I’m unsalable, but because I’m lazy and hard to work with. I take pictures because it’s more fun than painting, and I play piano for myself, though impressing others is nice.
When you lock yourself into a mode of thinking, you blind yourself from other possibilities of existence. It’s kind of like using a digital SLR camera with only one prime lens. You can do a lot with one lens, but experimenting with other focal lengths and apertures will broaden your understanding multi-dimensionally.
Looking back at 2010, 2009, or 2008, you can see that everything you did was necessary to get where you are now. This does not mean that you could not be in a better place if you made different decisions in the past — you most certainly could — but the linear nature of time means that dwelling on the past wastes the present and stifles the future. Instead of focusing on what could have been, focus on what can be now.
When my cousin Charles died at 27 of brain cancer in 2006, we saw that Memorial Sloan-Kettering was unable to save him with any amount of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. He died a tortuous, sickening, undignified death, but this prompted my Dad to research cancer and find that a molecule found in apple, cherry, and apricot seeds, wheat grass, raw spinach, and bitter almonds, consisting of 20 atoms carbon, 27 atoms hydrogen, 1 atom nitrogen, and 11 atoms oxygen prevents cancer if eaten in sufficient quantities daily. This really improved my life, since I don’t worry about cancer anymore, or staying out in the sun, using a cell phone, microwaving my food, or checking for lumps. I just take some wheat grass pills everyday and eat the seeds whenever I eat an apple.
If you have fears about death which can be overcome with action or knowledge, there’s no excuse to not pursue those, unless you want to die early. If you are a smoker, you can instantly prolong your life by quitting. If you eat red meat three meals a day, you can instantly prolong your life by replacing that with tofu, greens, and fish. If you live in a high-crime area, you can move to a low-crime area. If you have bad friends, you can abandon them and find good friends. If you are fat, you can lose weight by being hungry all the time. If you can’t sleep, you can drink a glass of warm milk or read a good book. If life is stressing you out, either change your attitude, change your life, or suffer.
I’ve heard of people regretting not having children late in life, but I’ve not heard of people regretting having children. I’ve heard of businessmen regretting spending too little time with their families, but I’ve not heard of businessmen regretting spending too little time at work. I’ve heard of women regretting having an abortion, but I’ve not heard of women regretting not having an abortion. I’ve heard people regretting committing suicide, but I’ve not heard people regretting not killing themselves. Love, kindness, and enjoying life now is the safer option, not because tomorrow may never come, but because today will never repeat.